A Cinderella Story . . . not your typical path to publication

Image via Wikipedia Mine was not the typical path to publication. To start with, I’m not your typical writer. Not that I don’t write all day, but do prescriptions count?...
series for social welfare 1965, fairy tale of ...
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Mine was not the typical path to publication.

To start with, I’m not your typical writer. Not that I don’t write all day, but do prescriptions count? Most of my writing consists of (sometimes sloppy) chart notes and (sometimes illegible) prescriptions.

I have started five books, however. Starting’s the easy part. Finishing is another story altogether.

But I did finally finish one. At least I thought I had. Turns out, I didn’t really understand re-writing. I thought my writing was pretty good, excellent in fact. I was all gung-ho to find an agent and a publisher.

But that process was more difficult than I’d imagined. I did go to one writing conference and talk to a dozen agents. Was it just me, that they weren’t interested? Two years later I still don’t know. Certainly my topic was an unusual one.

Well, by that time I’d let my manuscript sit awhile. When I re-read it months later I was horrified. I had written that? Stilted conversation, Germanesque sentences, trite commentary?

And so the re-writing began. The book shortened from 117,000 words to 110,000 – and I was certain it was perfect. I’d kind of given up on traditional publishing and printed several online. It was pretty good, I thought. My friends and family said so, too. I was ready to go big time.

Or so I thought. Out of the blue a friend of mine who teaches college writing offered to edit my manuscript. That should be easy, I thought proudly. She’ll probably love it and get lost in the story.

Wrong – again. She asked me not to hate her. Some of her comments were painful indeed.

So, again, I went through the book. We only made it 2/3 of the way through before school started and she ran out of time. I learned a lot from her editing, though – enough, perhaps, to continue on my own. Now it’s perfect, I thought. And down to 104,000 words – nothing left to cut. In his book on writing Stephen King had said to trim 10%, and I’d already gone beyond that.

But I was busy with life and put the book down again. In fact, I wasn’t thinking much about it at all when an agent called me. I’d visited her agency before. Would I be interested in her representing my book? I guess so, I think I said, my mind elsewhere. Certainly not the enthusiastic response she probably expected. The thing was, I’d given up on traditional publishing. Too frustrating and time-consuming to bother. And the holidays were coming up. And things work too slowly in the publishing world anyway.

Now here’s where the story gets interesting.

It was February 2009. We had a new president, intent on health reform. One day I heard him promise health reform in six months. Six months? I couldn’t believe my ears. It couldn’t possibly be done that quickly. I bet I know 100 ways to help patients save money today, I thought to myself. I grabbed a pencil, sat down at the kitchen table, and started writing. Half an hour later the list was done. I’d had my catharsis. I almost through the list away. Then I started thinking: these ideas could help a lot of people. Why not write a book?

And so I did. I knew from the beginning I would self-publish. I planned to get the book written and to the printer within four months. I almost made it. By six months the book was published, I’d lined up a distributor, and sales were slowly climbing.

Again the holidays came and went. I was putzing along, selling a reasonable number of books, doing frequent radio interviews and occasional newspaper stories.


Berlin series for social welfare 1965, fairy t...
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And that’s when a publisher came to me. Turns out, they were looking for a book on the topic, had ordered mine, and liked it. Would I be interested in updating the book for re-release?

Again my answer was equivocal. Maybe so, I answered, doubting the project would go forward. But they were persistent and by then I’d spoken with the agent for my other book. She was a fountain of information about traditional publishing. She told me how incredibly fortunate I was.

As of today the health book is six weeks from publication. Not only had they offered me a contract, they’d put the book on a crash schedule for quick release: nine months from initial contact to books in stores.

I’m not quite yet a published author, but it IS happening, and in a bigger way than I’d ever expected. I haven’t mentioned all the work this has involved – the re-writing, editing, blogging, web site development, publicity, etc. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours.

Oh, and what about my first book? My agent told me it needed to be under 100,000 words to draw the interest of a publisher. Aargh! I didn’t see where another 4,000 words could be chopped. But after letting the manuscript sit a few months (again!) I could see more clearly. After another few months of editing, it’s at 99,634 and (almost) on the way to… somewhere.

Copyright © 2010 Cynthia J. Koelker, MD

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